By Tinky Ningombam
Do you dread family get-togethers? Pardon my French, but if the answer is hell-yeah, believe me, you are not the only one.
It is true when they say that our friends are better than family, because we can pick our friends. Family? Not an option. You get what you get. The quirky ones and the crazies. No escaping that.
I remember with dread those golden moments when all our extended family gather for our family feasts. How can we escape those feasts? It’s always a tricky situation. They bribe and tempt you with good food. And every time you keep falling into that trap. And slowly and steadily, while waiting for the food to be served, you end up surrounded by the dysfunctional members of your family and then it strikes you. The forgotten resolve. The innumerable times when you had sworn to avoid the get-together the next year.
But I must admit, it was harder when I was a teenager, when inappropriate questions used to embarrass me. Who better than family to ask inappropriate and embarrassing questions? But come on, who are we kidding? When you are with your family apparently there are no inappropriate questions. And no matter what crazy questions come up, they expect an answer.
“Do you still pee in your bed, Jamie?”
“No, ma’am, I am 16 now”
“Oh, but you used to do that till you were 12, I still remember changing your diapers”
Well, nothing better than to make an interesting conversation. And reminding people of funny moments have been the favourite past-times. “Remember the time when you fell and then your pants tore, ha ha, that was hilarious!” Imagine if you decide to bring your friends along? Social suicide.
I think there is a direct correlation between your family’s capacity to embarrass you in front of people and how older you become. As in, it goes on increasing. Just last year, I went to a feast and one of my aunts by relation, I think it was an aunt, (Gosh, there are way too many of them!) told me that I gained so much weight since the last she saw me and hinted not very subtly that I looked like a plumped up cow. I obviously didn’t know how to react. Was I supposed to apologize for gaining weight? To her? Someone who I hardly knew. I didn’t even know her name! It seemed a pretty weird observation from someone who had not seen me since I was born. Well I definitely don’t remember meeting her anywhere else, except maybe the pre-historic museum. And surprisingly, the rest of the dozen women gathered around us seemed to agree to her presumably wise comment. Hence followed a long winded discussion on how I need to lose weight before I balloon up and die.
Hence one of the many reasons for my obvious hatred for social niceties amongst my crazy family and back to my futile rant – questioning why older folks in the family take all the liberty to say things to younger ones just because they are older. Social etiquette goes out of the window. So since we are family, for some, they can say anything they want. There is no greater pain than to try and play nice when all you have to deal with are dysfunctional family members who seem to give you all the reasons for you to hate your life.
Familiar scenes repeats itself in such gatherings. The drunk uncle gaffing with stories of how much money he has, the great grand moms who talk of how this generation is a lost cause, the gossiping aunts who squirm when they see our blond hair streaks and tattoos, the groups of women who complain about the other groups, the young mothers who keep on asking you when you will be hitched, the kids who giggle amongst themselves and probably make fun of your dress. And everyone just seems to be fighting for attention, to show the others how good they are. No-one wants to listen, everyone has to tell their great story.
It is in times like these when you hunt for the ones who at least relate to you in a saner way. Your gang. Your support group till the rest of the afternoon. This is where you camouflage yourself and hide before someone catches you to ask more questions, because you are the girl who has come after a long time. You are the new bait. They are bored of harassing the others, they are old news. You are the new fish to fry.
There will perhaps never be a time when you can find everyone in my family agreeing to one thing at a time. Everyone is from a different generation, different histories, different occupations, different struggles, different mindset and religious and political inclinations. But maybe the only thing that I can hope for, at least from my family, is that when worse comes to worse, you can find help from them even if they don’t agree with you. As far as get-togethers are concerned, there is no right answer to how to handle them. Just pray that you are not the bait the next time, maybe pass it on to someone else.
(“I love family reunions. Maybe next year we could pass out samurai swords. – Doug Solter”)